News

No help seen in higher school levies

By JODY ALLARD

Staff writer

Increasing the amount of funds school districts can raise from local levies may not be the answer to the state’s education funding woes, according to district officials.

House Bill 1082, also known as the Ruderman Bill, seeks to alleviate the disparity between education funding needs and state funds by allowing school districts to raise more money from local levies. Proponents of the bill claim it would free school districts to raise community funds at a time when state dollars simply might not be available.

Federal Way Public Schools superintendent Tom Murphy and other education advocates statewide claim the problem is in the fine print.

For communities such as Bellevue or Mercer Island where there are strong commercial interests, there is less of a school tax burden on homeowners.

In those communities, Murphy said, “you can raise taxes and have very little impact on homeowners.”

That’s not the case in Federal Way. The school tax burden on homeowners is more than double the King County average. However, the district collects less money per student in levy dollars than any other district in the county because of lower assessed property values. Raising the levy lid will only compound the existing disparity, Murphy said.

“The reliance on local communities for a greater percentage of school funding sets up the reality of distinct differences in what school districts are able to provide for kids, depending on where you live and the economic well-being of your community,” said Murphy. “The money that you have to educate kids shouldn’t be based on where you live.”

In addition to the financial disparity among districts caused by varying levy dollars, the amount of state and federal funding each district receives relies, in part, on the amount it raises from local levies.

When state and federal funds are factored in, Federal Way receives the least amount of total funding per pupil of all of the districts in King County. Levy lid and administrative pay-level limits, which were grandfathered in when the State Basic Education Act was passed in 1977, allow districts like Bellevue, Seattle, Tukwila and Mercer Island to collect about 25 percent more levy dollars -- and subsequently government funding -- than Federal Way.

“With the Ruderman Bill, those districts stand to outpace us even further in funding per pupil,” said Murphy. “We’ll continue to oppose any increase in the levy lid, whether it’s through the front door or the back door or the side door.”

The obligation for providing fair and equitable education funding rests not with homeowners but with the Legislature, Murphy said. Legislators are expected to open the bill for discussion over the coming weeks.

Staff writer Jody Allard: 925-5565 and jallard@fedwaymirror.com

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